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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 19, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 26
Congress Warned of Flat Funding

New report outlines threat to medical advances

By Gary Stephenson
Johns Hopkins Medicine

A consortium of eight leading U.S. scientific and medical institutions, including The Johns Hopkins University, is warning Congress in a report released this afternoon that persistent flat funding of biomedical research could thwart advances in treatments for such diseases as cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and erode U.S. dominance in science.

In its 21-page report, Within Our Grasp — Or Slipping Away? Assuring a New Era of Scientific and Medical Progress, the consortium said that years of stagnant budgets for the National Institutes of Health also has interrupted promising research and forced young investigators to leave their scientific careers.

The group calls on Congress to provide more consistent and robust NIH funding levels to maintain U.S. global leadership in biomedical research. Other members of the consortium are the University of California system; Columbia University; Harvard University; University of Texas at Austin; Washington University in St. Louis; University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Yale University.

According to the report, the doubling of NIH's budget between 1998 and 2003 transformed science in important fields and fueled advances in basic research.

The report describes recent seminal advances in basic research, fueled by earlier rounds of robust federal investment in NIH-sponsored research related to Alzheimer's disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, obesity, diabetes, and spinal cord and brain injury. Consortium members say momentum and advances will be lost and difficult to reverse if flat funding continues.

The impact of flat funding already is serious, the report notes. Eight of 10 quality research grant applications are going unfunded, and such NIH components as the National Cancer Institute say they can fund only 11 percent of research project grant applications, rejecting many of exceptional quality.

"Warning bells should be sounding loudly in Congress and among the public," says Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "The world's premier biomedical research engine is at risk."

The bleak funding situation, the report warns, already is driving many of the brightest young minds from science careers and diminishing the potential for new treatments even if funding levels rise, unless the damage is stemmed quickly. Equally troubling, the consortium report says, scientists are abandoning some of their most innovative research in favor of more conservative projects with more predictable results that are more likely to be funded. Principal investigators also must spend increasingly enormous amounts of time raising funds rather than conducting research.

Frustrated by funding lags, U.S. scientists are following research dollars to countries in Europe and Asia that are making investment in biomedical sciences high national priorities and actively recruiting star scientists, according to the report.

The report, Within Our Grasp — Or Slipping Away? Assuring a New Era of Scientific and Medical Progress, is online at


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